Well, last week the GCSE results came out and they became the usual political football. Despite my previously stated views on the Twenty First Century Science syllabus, I am not among those who consider the GCSEs to be meaningless.
I would agree that a Grade C now is not the same as a Grade C 30 years ago. In those days, Grade C was the equivalent of an O-level pass or CSE Grade 1, which was achieved by only a small number of candidates. These days about 60% of students achieve 5 or more Grade Cs or better. In times gone by, a CSE Grade 4 was the average achievement of the 16 year age group for each subject. So it seems fair to say that the modern grades A*, A, B & C cover the same range as the O-level A, B & C and CSE grades 2, 3 & 4. i.e. the four modern grades cover the same ability range as 6 grades did thirty years ago. As a result of this, each grade covers a much wider ability range than used to be the case. These days 20 to 25 percent of candidates in each subject attain A or A*.
This has caused pundits in the press to be dismissive of the achievement of those students who obtain eight such grades. This dismissiveness is not justified. To achieve A or better, students must be in the top quartile of the ability range. As such, they might reasonably be considered capable of achieving a pass at the old O-level. Eight O-level passes was considered an excellent achievement when I was at school.
A final thought. I cannot help notice that the newspapers most dismissive of the achievements of modern teenagers are also those with high woo content in their pages. I wonder whether those who fanned the flames of the MMR-autism scare, or those who think microwaves have something to do with radioactivity and publish scare-stories based on that error, or uncritically publish homeopathy puff-pieces, have the intellectual ability to pass a school science exam from any era since the Enlightenment.